Adaptive Markets … Disruptors Feast … One Device … Fast technological change drives the need for more new ideas

January 4, 2018

As the pace of technological innovation continues to accelerate, there is a thirst for new ideas.

Augmented reality to artificial intelligence, big data analytics to blockchain distributed networks, connected cars and wearable devices …  Technological change forces us to think different, to reframe our future perspectives and make new choices, to find practical and valuable applications for the mind-boggling capabilities, and to ensure that progress is positive as well as profitable.

Business thinkers have stepped up to bridge this ideas gap, with a proliferation of new books.

These range from Andrew Lo’s foundation-setting supplement to the efficient-market hypothesis (in “Adaptive Markets”) and Ray Dalio’s illuminating discussions of what has driven his and Bridgewater’s success (“Principles”) to Amy Goldstein’s compelling and carefully researched analysis of a devastated industrial town’s challenges in industrial retooling and repositioning itself (“Janesville”) and Satya Nadella’s engaging discussion of both his personal journey and the opportunities facing tech as Microsoft successfully reboots (“Hit Refresh”).

Disruption and inequality feature highly in economic, corporate and political discussions. And there are valuable insights to be gained from Brian Merchant’s detailed analysis of what has gone into the creation and proliferation of the iPhone (“The One Device”) and Walter Scheidel’s sobering historical analysis of the causes and consequences of inequality (“The Great Leveler”).

Laura Alber, CEO of Williams-Sonoma, was particularly inspired by “The Disruptors’ Feast”.

Frits van Paasschen, the former CEO of Starwood Hotels, takes readers on a global journey through decades of his work to discover the path through disruption. It was refreshing to step outside of the dynamics of my own industry and immerse myself in Mr. van Paasschen’s compelling narratives of some of America’s most beloved brands as they overcame or succumbed to industry, economic or customer changes.

In a warm and engaging style, Mr. van Paasschen directly addresses seemingly perennial topics such as technology, globalization and sustainability, which can have a momentous influence on any industry. Despite the challenges that lie ahead for leaders in our rapidly evolving economy, Mr. van Paasschen is soberly optimistic in his parting words: “It is better to prepare than to predict.”

John Zimmer is co-founder of car-sharing brand, Lyft. He chose “Tribe”.

Often the simplest reminders are the most important and influential. Zimmer has always believed that the happiest moments in life are those when we feel most connected to family, friends and the community around us. Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe” does an excellent job highlighting how we need to reclaim our sense of true community, and shows how societies define themselves and thrive when they share a common purpose. In times of increasing complexity and technology, we have to double down on our humanity and stay intimately connected—in person, not online—to the people around us.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, thought that “Radical Technologies” stood out.

Adam Greenfield’s book describes some of the ways innovation is transforming our daily lives. The book depicts an urban landscape where street cleaners carry GPS transponders to track their progress; sensors capture traffic jams on local thoroughfares and instantly alert drivers with a thick red line on their smartphone screens; and every transaction in every bistro, shop and cafe generates a profile of our personal preferences and daily habits.

If it feels like the world is awash with data on everything we think or do, you are right: The data we generate every second of our lives is being culled at creation. With artificial intelligence, machines can probably understand us better than we understand ourselves.

Change is inevitable. The big question is, How do we retool ourselves? How do we function in this new, utterly transparent world? What are the social consequences of what we are experiencing? Longing for a past that will never exist is not an option, and “Radical Technologies” is a fascinating glimpse at what we can achieve when we embrace the changes happening all around us and infuse our lives with the spirit of possibility.

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